If you see something, say something

The Oregon Child Abuse Hotline is a toll-free number that allows you to report the abuse or neglect of any child to the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Here’s the number: 855-503-SAFE (7233)

You can also report a suspected case to your local police department, county sheriff, county juvenile department or Oregon State Police.

Maliyha Hope Garcia starved to death in plain sight.

Three day care providers, a doctor and family members all saw the Redmond child as she wasted away in the final 18 months of her life but only shared their concerns with her parents and were satisfied with the answers they received.

On one occasion, a case worker with the Oregon Department of Human Services, the state agency charged with child welfare, visited Maliyha’s home but saw nothing of concern.

And in the final weeks of her life, an uncle picked up the girl and told her mother she felt light.

When Maliyha died on Dec. 21, 2016, emergency responders who tried to save the life of the 5-year-old girl described her as a corpse. She weighed 24 pounds. Her ribs were visible. Skin hung from her arms.

Because those around Maliyha trusted the word of her abusive parents rather than their suspicions, the girl slipped through a safety net designed to protect Oregon children.

The state relies on mandatory reporters — individuals in 30 professions who might see a child — to report their concerns if they fear a child is in trouble. Their ranks include doctors, therapists, members of the clergy, foster parents and day care providers. If someone had reported what was happening to Maliyha, social workers could have investigated.

State child welfare officials say there is no one to blame for Maliyha’s death except her parents — Estevan Garcia and Sacora Horn-Garcia — who were convicted of her murder Oct. 18 in Deschutes County Circuit Court.

But they also say Maliyha’s untimely death adds emphasis to a child welfare directive: When in doubt, call.

The lack of action haunts Emily Groves, a Redmond child care provider since 1998 and Maliyha’s primary day care provider for the first four years of the child’s life.

“Someone should have spoken up for her,” Groves said. “She was failed all the way around.”

The last time Groves saw the girl was about a year before her death. Maliyha was quiet, tired and her eyes were dark. Groves asked Garcia if something was wrong and he said the girl had just gotten over the flu.

Groves wishes she knew more at the time.

“She looked weak and tired,” Groves said. “But it made sense if she was just getting over a heavy flu.”

Despite being born to a drug-addicted mother in California, Maliyha appeared to have a normal, happy life in Redmond after she was adopted by Garcia in February 2012 and brought to Oregon.

Jake Sunderland, spokesman for Oregon Department of Human Services, said the first time the state heard of Maliyha was when someone from St. Charles Redmond called the agency the day she died.

“It’s one of those tragic situations where there weren’t any red flags and the child was actually leaving an abusive situation in California,” Sunderland said. “The process didn’t turn up anything to be concerned about.”

State child welfare officials would not say if they think mandatory reporters or concerned people in Maliyha’s life should have reported.

Mandatory reporters can face a maximum fine of $2,000 for not reporting child abuse or neglect. In Maliyha’s case, nobody was fined for not reporting, according to Redmond Police.

There are a variety of reasons individuals would not report a case, such as feeling they do not have enough training to make an accusation, fear of retaliation or believing the process is too bureaucratic.

Those reasons should not prevent people from reporting, especially mandatory reporters, Sunderland said. Reports are anonymous and are made by calling the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline.

“The expectation of mandatory reporters is if you have a suspicion, call us and make sure we know about it,” Sunderland said. “If you have reason to believe there is an incident of abuse or neglect, you are required to be calling it in.”

As shown by Maliyha’s case, not reporting signs of abuse or neglect can lead to tragedy.

Maliyha was one of 19 children in Oregon to die from abuse or neglect in 2016, according to DHS data. The data shows 30 children died from abuse or neglect in 2017 and 26 died in 2018.

The DHS Critical Incident Review Team investigates child deaths when the victim was seen by child welfare officials within 12 months of death. In 2016, two CIRT investigations were completed. There were seven in 2017 and 18 in 2018, according to DHS data. Not on the state’s radar in those three years were 48 additional children who died from abuse or neglect.

Maliyha’s death did not prompt a CIRT investigation because DHS did not have contact with her in the previous 12 months.

“There has been no reports of abuse or neglect with this family related to this kid,” Sunderland said.

Since Maliyha’s death, a new state law slightly changed the criteria of CIRT investigations, but that still would not have been enough to trigger an investigation, according to DHS.

Senate Bill 832, sponsored by Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, took effect Oct. 1 and changes the way CIRT investigations are launched. In the past, DHS would wait until its Child Protective Services division confirmed neglect or abuse. But now an investigation can begin if there is simply a reasonable belief that the child’s death was due to abuse or neglect.

Before a case turns into a fatality, DHS works closely with local law enforcement.

Lt. Chad Davis, a detective with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, said officers regularly go with DHS workers on welfare checks and follow-up visits to homes where abuse or neglect is suspected.

Davis said law enforcement relies on both mandatory reporters and concerned citizens who contact the state child abuse hotline to alert them of a child who may be at risk.

An abuse case might appear minor at the time, but people should still report and let DHS and law enforcement investigate, Davis said.

“It’s see something say something,” Davis said. “We would rather have people call and report it.”

If other people are reporting the same incident, or if similar incidents happen in the future, an initial report becomes even more valuable to law enforcement, Davis said.

“It may seem minor at the time, but may relate to a bigger issue,” he said.

Groves was a mandatory reporter when she ran her Redmond day care, Fun in Learning. She was Maliyha’s daily provider and taught her how to walk, speak and tie her shoes until her parents withdrew the child in June 2015.

At the time, any concern Groves had about the girl’s health was explained by her parents.

Maliyha also attended Adventures and Learning preschool in Redmond on a drop-in basis 15 times between December 2015 and May 2016. Several current and former Adventures in Learning employees had concerns about Maliyha’s level of hunger. Maliyha was pulled from Adventures in Learning in May 2016, and became more isolated before her death.

“She was a little girl who was lost and forgotten and thrown away,” Groves said. “She had the entire community and her family let her down.”

Even three years after Maliyha’s death, Groves, a grandmother with five children, thinks about the child every day. She wishes she had kept a photo or a piece of Maliyha’s artwork from her time at day care, rather than give all those pieces back to her parents.

Groves can still imagine Maliyha — who she affectionately called Mally — dancing in the day care, reading Dr. Seuss and creating art like a butterfly she made out of colored paper.

“She was a gem of a little girl,” Groves said. “She was so sweet and so full of life and a best friend to everyone.”

Those memories prompted Groves to host a candlelight vigil for Maliyha on Thursday night at Redmond’s Centennial Park. It drew about 60 people. Most of them had never met Maliyha.

“If this can just help one other child,” Groves said. “It’s the best thing I can do to honor Mally.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

— To read complete coverage of Maliyha Hope Garcia’s story and the murder trial of her parents, visit www.bendbulletin.com/topics/maliyha

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